The inability to use one’s wheelchair on airplanes makes air travel very difficult, if not impossible, for many people with disabilities. It requires multiple transfers between boarding chairs and aircraft seats, posing injury risks. Airline seats are a poor alternative to personal wheelchairs which are typically customized for the user’s safety, comfort, and specific medical needs. Further, passengers’ wheelchairs are stowed in the cargo hold and often damaged, mishandled, or lost as a result.
To address these challenges, the U.S. Access Board is undertaking a study to assess the feasibility of equipping aircraft with restraint systems so that passengers can remain in their wheelchairs on flights. Congress directed the Board to study this question in its most recent reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The Board has enlisted the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which is part of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, to conduct this assessment and to issue a report. The Board and TRB will consult the Department of Transportation, aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and disability advocates in the course of the study, as directed by the act.
“The Board is eager to examine this issue which has the potential to make flying safer and more comfortable for thousands of people who use wheelchairs,” stated Board Executive Director David Capozzi. “We look forward to building upon and advancing the work of other organizations who have provided critical leadership, advocacy, and research on this subject, notably All Wheels Up, Flying Disabled, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.”
TRB will organize an expert panel to assess and evaluate the feasibility of equipping passenger aircraft with in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems. This panel will include experts in aircraft manufacturing, aeronautics, aviation safety, accessibility, disability policy, airline operations, and other disciplines. It will examine the design, engineering, and safety requirements for equipping aircraft with locking or tiedown mechanisms for non-motorized and motorized wheelchairs used as seats. If such restraint systems are found to be feasible, the panel will then assess how they can be used to accommodate passengers using wheelchairs through all phases of flight, from boarding to deplaning. A peer-reviewed report on the panel’s findings will be published at the conclusion of the project and submitted to Congress. The report is expected by October 2021.
For further information on this study, contact Mario Damiani of the Access Board at (202) 272-0050 (voice), (202) 272-0066 (TTY), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-254)
SEC. 432. STUDY ON IN-CABIN WHEELCHAIR RESTRAINT SYSTEMS.
(a) STUDY. Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and disability advocates, shall conduct a study to determine:
(1) the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems; and
(2) if feasible, the ways in which individuals with significant disabilities using wheelchairs, including power wheelchairs, can be accommodated with in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
(b) REPORT. Not later than 1 year after the initiation of the study under subsection (a), the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the findings of the study.